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Symbol and Synergy: The Whaling Heritage of West-Coast Native Peoples

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Goddard, Joan
Conference: Voices from the Commons, the Sixth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Berkeley, CA
Conf. Date: June 5-8, 1996
Date: 1996
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/1053
Sector: Fisheries
Region: North America
Subject(s): IASC
whaling
indigenous institutions
Pacific Ocean
Abstract: "On North America's northwest coast, native people, the Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island and the Makah of Washington State, hunted whales for thousands of years. With the coming of Europeans, the native population was weakened by disease and forced to adapt to a new way of life. Traditional whaling for gray whales and humpbacks from cedar dugout canoes ended in the first decade of this century, though a few hunts are said to have occurred more recently. Now the Makah tribe of Washington State talk of resuming the hunt for gray whales, exercising a right affirmed in their treaty of 1853. Their relatives, the Nuu-chah-nulth living on the outer shores of Vancouver Island in Canada, have included recognition of their whaling heritage in their current treaty negotiations. Researchers believe that the gray whales' numbers were not threatened over thousands of years of aboriginal hunting; but in the latter half of the nineteenth century they were almost exterminated by commercial whalers. Then in 1905, modern steam whaling ships began annually killing hundreds of humpback whales, the natives' alternative prey. While humpback whlaes now are rarely seen, gray whales have returned to pre-commercial whaling numbers. And the Makah, who have never stopped looking to the sea for their sustenance, are ready to revive the hunt. Although both the Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth have been absorbed into the cash economy and a mainstream lifestyle, their whaling heritage has been retained in their cultural identity. This paper describes their traditional whaling and suggests some aspects of its significance today."

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